Russian APT28 hacking group still at it, thanks traitor Don


A group affiliated with the Russian government created phony versions of six websites — including some related to public policy and to the U.S. Senate — with the apparent goal of hacking into the computers of people who were tricked into visiting, according to Microsoft, which said Monday night that it discovered and disabled the fake sites.

The effort by the notorious APT28 hacking group, which has been publicly linked to a Russian intelligence agency and actively interfered in the 2016 presidential election, underscores the aggressive role Russian operatives are playing ahead of the midterm congressional elections in the United States. U.S. officials have repeatedly warned that the November vote is a major focus for interference efforts. Microsoft said the sites were created over the past several months but did not go into more specifics.

Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit, which is responsible for the company’s response to email phishing schemes, took the lead role in finding and disabling the sites, and the company is launching an effort to provide expanded cybersecurity protection for campaigns and election agencies that use Microsoft products.

Among those targeted were the Hudson Institute, a conservative Washington think tank active in investigations of corruption in Russia, and the International Republican Institute (IRI), a nonprofit group that promotes democracy worldwide. Three other fake sites were crafted to appear as though they were affiliated with the Senate, and one nonpolitical site spoofed Microsoft’s own online products.

The Senate did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Monday.

Microsoft said Monday that it had found no evidence that the fake sites it recently discovered were used in attacks, but fake sites can carry malware that automatically loads onto the computers of unsuspecting visitors. Hackers often send out deceptive “spear-phishing” emails to trick people into visiting sites that appear to be authentic but in fact allow the attackers to penetrate and gain control of computers that log on, allowing the theft of emails, documents, contact lists and other information.

“This apparent spear-phishing attempt against the International Republican Institute and other organizations is consistent with the campaign of meddling that the Kremlin has waged against organizations that support democracy and human rights,” said Daniel Twining, IRI’s president, who put blame on Russian President Vladi­mir Putin. “It is clearly designed to sow confusion, conflict, and fear among those who criticize Mr. Putin’s authoritarian regime.”

The move by Microsoft is the latest effort by Silicon Valley to address Russian threats to the coming election more aggressively than the technology industry did in 2016 when many woke up to the seriousness and sophistication of disinformation efforts only after Americans had voted. Companies and U.S. officials have vowed to work together more closely this year. Facebook recently disclosed that the company had taken down 32 fake accounts and pages that were tied to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian disinformation operation active before and after the 2016 election.

After discovering the sites recently, Microsoft said, it sought to obtain a court order to transfer the domain names to its own servers, a legal tactic that the company’s security division has used a dozen times since 2016 to disable 84 websites created by APT28, which also is sometimes called Strontium or Fancy Bear. APT28, a unit under the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, specializes in information warfare or hacking and disinformation operations. “APT” refers to “advanced persistent threat” in cybersecurity circles.

The court order, executed last week, effectively allowed Microsoft to shut down the sites and to research them more fully. Microsoft has used the legal tactic to go after botnets, or malicious networks of automated accounts, since at least 2010.

Microsoft President Brad Smith said in an interview that the company had been tracking the Russian-government-backed group for two years but had decided to speak publicly about the company’s efforts for the first time because of a growing sense of urgency and an uptick in Russian activity ahead of the midterms.

“You can’t really bring people together in a democratic society unless we share information about what’s going on,” Smith told The Washington Post. “When there are facts that are clear as day, for those of us who operate inside companies, increasingly we feel it’s an imperative for us to share this more broadly with the public.”

He said that the technology industry was seeking to become more transparent with the public. The company previously had announced that two political candidates had been subjected to spear-phishing attacks.

“For many decades, people in democratic societies saw these as fundamentally tools that were more likely to bring information to people living in authoritarian countries, and we didn’t really worry about these kinds of technologies causing risks to a democratic society,” Smith said. “What we’re seeing now, with email and voting systems and social media, is [the technologies] creating an asymmetric risk for democratic societies.”

Read the full story here:



Trump’s failing and flailing; new poll results

This morning, Trump is once again raging at Mueller on Twitter, calling for his probe to be shut down.

Uh-oh. His base will march in lockstep with him on this, and that’s all that matters! He’s flooding the media zone!!

We are doomed to helplessness while his mighty social media presence mesmerizes the electorate!!!

He’s winning!!!!

Except … no, he isn’t.

A new CNN poll finds:

Only 34 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the Russia investigation, vs. 55 percent who disapprove.

58 percent say this is a serious matter that should be investigated, vs. only 37 percent who think it’s mainly an effort to discredit Trump.

56 percent say Trump has interfered with the investigation, vs. only 38 percent who say he has not.

Only 37 percent say the things Trump has said publicly about the investigation are true, vs. 56 percent who say they are false.

70 percent say Trump should testify to Mueller, vs. only 25 percent who say he should not.

57 percent say Trump knew about contacts between his campaign operatives and Russians, vs. only 36 percent who say he did not.

Trump is losing every single public argument about the Mueller probe. His latest, in a tweet citing Judicial Watch, is that the firing of former FBI agent Peter Strzok, who authored texts critical of Trump, shows that the “fundamental underpinnings of the investigation were corrupt.” This is a lie: The inspector general’s report into all this actually found that the FBI decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton was untainted by bias or politics, completely laying waste to Trump’s narrative.

from a piece by Greg Sargent in the Washington Post

read the rest at:

21 days over 120 degrees, ya that just happened, what’s next?

Hothouse Earth Is Merely the Beginning of the End Not the end of the planet, but maybe the end of its human inhabitants

“Our future,” scientist James Lovelock has written, “is like that of the passengers on a small pleasure boat sailing quietly above the Niagara Falls, not knowing that the engines are about to fail.”

I thought about Lovelock the other day as I drove across Idaho, watching plumes from a forest fire rise in the distance. My mom and two of my kids were texting me about their experience driving through Redding, the city in Northern California where a “firenado” had devastated the region and accelerated a wildfire that killed six people. Not far away, in Mendocino, the largest fire in California history was burning an area the size of Los Angeles.

On the radio, I listened to reports from around the world: in Athens, Greece, a fire killed 92 people; in Japan, a brutal heat wave claimed 80 lives. This summer, wildfires have been burning in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Germany. There are even wildfires in the Arctic. High temperature records have been shattered all around the globe, including in Death Valley, California, which set the record for the hottest month ever recorded on the planet, with 21 days over 120 degrees. Our world is aflame.

I doubt any of this would surprise Lovelock, who is one of the most original thinkers of the 20th century, as well as one of the most articulate prophets of doom. As an inventor, he created a device that helped detect the growing hole in the ozone layer and jump-start the environmental movement in the 1970s. And as a scientist, he introduced the revolutionary theory known as Gaia — the idea that our entire planet is a kind of super-organism that is, in a sense, “alive.” Once dismissed as New Age quackery, Lovelock’s vision of a self-regulating Earth now underlies virtually all climate science.

And in Lovelock’s view, the Earth’s self-regulating system is seriously out of whack, thanks largely to our 150-year fossil fuel binge. “You could quite seriously look at climate change as a response of the system intended to get rid of an irritating species: us humans,” Lovelock told me in 2007 when I visited him at his house in Devon, England, for a profile in Rolling Stone. “Or at least cut them back to size.”

And Lovelock did not mince words about the future that we are creating for ourselves by ignoring the warning signs on our superheated planet. As I wrote at the time:

In Lovelock’s view, the scale of the catastrophe that awaits us will soon become obvious. By 2020, droughts and other extreme weather will be commonplace. By 2040, the Sahara will be moving into Europe, and Berlin will be as hot as Baghdad. Atlanta will end up a kudzu jungle. Phoenix will become uninhabitable, as will parts of Beijing (desert), Miami (rising seas) and London (floods). Food shortages will drive millions of people north, raising political tensions. “The Chinese have nowhere to go but up into Siberia,” Lovelock says. “How will the Russians feel about that? I fear that war between Russia and China is probably inevitable.” With hardship and mass migrations will come epidemics, which are likely to kill millions. By 2100, Lovelock believes, the Earth’s population will be culled from today’s 6.6 billion to as few as 500 million, with most of the survivors living in the far latitudes – Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia, the Arctic Basin.

A new paper published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences called “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene” reached more or less the same conclusion, even if was stated in more general scientific terms (and of course minus any reference to a “culling” of Earth’s population).

The paper, which was widely covered by everyone from USA Today to Al Jazeera, projected a very Lovelock-ian view of our world, arguing that even if we managed to hit the carbon emissions targets set in the Paris Climate Accord, we still might trigger a series of accelerating climate-system feedback loops that would push the climate into a permanent hothouse state, with a warming of four, five or even six degrees Celsius. If that were to happen, the paper argued, “Hothouse Earth is likely to be uncontrollable and dangerous to many, particularly if we transition into it in only a century or two, and it poses severe risks for health, economies, political stability (especially for the most climate vulnerable), and ultimately, the habitability of the planet for humans.”

The idea that the Earth’s climate system has certain tipping points, or thresholds, is nothing new. Small changes in the temperature of the Southern Ocean, for example, might have big implications for the West Antarctic ice sheet, leading to an ice cliff collapse that could raise sea levels by 10 feet or more in a very short (geologically-speaking) period of time. Richard Alley, a glaciologist at Penn State, has described the Earth’s climate as a highly complex system that, based on small forces that are still only dimly understood, tends to lurch from one steady state to another. “You might think of the climate as a drunk,” Alley wrote in his great book The Two Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future, which was first published in 2000. “When left alone, it sits; when forced to move, it staggers.”

There is no groundbreaking new science in the Hothouse Earth paper. Rather, it’s a synthesis of what is already known and presented in a compelling way. But it is an important reminder of two key attributes of the climate crisis. The first is that the real threat of climate change is not a slow slide into a warmer world; it’s a fast change into a radically different climate. How fast that change could happen, and how radically different it might be, no one can say for sure. But by continuing to dump fossil fuels into the atmosphere at an ever-increasing rate, we are rolling the dice. As Columbia University scientist Wally Broecker famously put it, “If you’re living with any angry beast, you shouldn’t poke it with a stick.”

And we are not doing nearly enough to fight it. The Hothouse Earth paper points out — again, in a very Lovelock-ian way — that fighting climate change is not just a matter of reducing carbon pollution in the future, important as that obviously is. It’s about taking active stewardship of the planet now, and thinking more holistically about how to manage it now. Among other things, that means giving up the notion that there is a “solution” for climate change and accepting the idea we are living in a rapidly changing world now. How will we engineer drinking water systems to deal with this? How will we manage forests? How are coastal cities going to adapt to — or intelligently retreat from — rapidly rising seas?

“The heat and fires we’re seeing this summer is worrisome,” Alley tells Rolling Stone, in his typically understated way. “There are certainly human fingerprints on a lot of it.” But, Alley points out, this is just the beginning. As of now, the Earth has warmed just 1 degree Celsius. “Dealing with what we’re seeing now is the easy stuff,” Alley says. “With each additional degree of warming, the impact will be greater.” Alley is most concerned about physical systems with likely tipping points, such as the West Antarctic ice sheet.

He’s also concerned about biological tipping points. “If the oxygen level in oceans drops just a little, it could have a big and immediate impact on sea life,” Alley says. “A fire in Brazil could lead to rainforest being replaced with savannah, which would have all kinds of consequences for biological diversity, as well as for carbon uptake.”

But it’s the tipping point in human systems that worry Alley the most. He points to the recent drought in the Middle East, which was a key driver in the Syrian civil war. “You can see the resilience of different political systems. During the drought, Israel was OK. But Syria was not.”

Maybe this is the summer that we figure out that, as Lovelock put it, our engines are about the fail and we are indeed headed over the falls. But I thought that after Hurricane Katrina, too. And after Sandy. Instead, America elected a president who thinks climate change is a hoax and tweets insanely about how California doesn’t have enough water to fight the fires because it has “diverted” rivers into the Pacific. (As University of California at Merced professor LeRoy Westerling explained to NPR, “Even if you built a massive statewide sprinkler system and drained all of our natural water bodies to operate it, it wouldn’t keep up with evaporation from warmer temperatures from climate change.”)

When I talked to Lovelock in his cottage in Devon 11 years ago, he wasn’t worried about the fate of the planet. “Gaia is a tough bitch,” he told me. Whatever we humans do to it, he argued, it will eventually recover its equilibrium, even if it takes millions of years. What’s at stake, Lovelock believes, is civilization. “I don’t see it being too long before forms of life, based on the idea of [artificial intelligence] and so on, take over and run the planet for heaven knows how long.”

What about humans?  When asked about this recently, Lovelock told the BBC: “Don’t you consider it possible that we’ve had our time?”

By Jeff Goodell for Rolling Stone

Trump’s buddies, the Saudis, join him in bashing Canada

On Sunday, Trumps strong supporters Saudi Arabia reacted to a single tweet from the Canadian foreign ministry. The tweet called on the Saudis to “immediately release” imprisoned activist Samar Badawi, sister of Raif, as well as “all other peaceful #humanrights activists.” The Saudi foreign ministry lambasted the Canadians for an “unfortunate, reprehensible, and unacceptable” statement, announced the “freezing of all new trade and investment transactions” with Canada, demanding the Canadian ambassador leave the country “within the next 24 hours.”

At the same time, Saudi trolls took to Twitter to declare their loud support for … Quebec’s independence. Who knew that an absolute Persian Gulf monarchy was so passionate about a French-speaking secessionist movement 6,000 miles away?

Saudi Arabia was just getting started. On Monday, the kingdom escalated the row by suspending scholarships “for about 16,000 Saudi students” studying in Canada, the Toronto Star reported, “and ordered them to attend schools elsewhere.”

Then a Saudi group put out an image on Twitter of a Canadian airliner flying directly toward Toronto’s tallest building over a warning against interfering in others’ affairs. (The Saudi group later deleted it and apologized)

Much has been made of the kingdom’s “increasingly assertive foreign policy” but, yet again, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known by his initials MBS, may have bitten off more than he can chew. It’s madness to try and bully a Western government, which up until Sunday was both a friend of Saudi Arabia and a major arms supplier, for offering the mildest of online criticisms of (undeniable) human rights abuses. What message does that send to Riyadh’s other Western allies, who also like to go through the motions of lightly condemning various Saudi abuses in order to appease their voters? Is the game up?

MBS is the reverse Midas — everything he touches turns to dust.

Why, for example, make so much noise and demonstrate such (faux) outrage over Canada’s “overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs” of the Saudi kingdom, thereby drawing attention to the country’s own “overt and blatant interference” in Syria, Bahrain, Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, Egypt and, of course, Yemen? The double standards are stark.
They could have just ignored Canada’s passing, pro forma admonishment of their crackdown on women’s rights activists and the rest. They’ve done it before. But the Saudis, led by their impulsive and thin-skinned crown prince, have proven themselves to be their own worst enemies. Their Iranian, Qatari, and Turkish rivals couldn’t pay for the kind of negative, anti-Saudi media coverage that the folks in Riyadh seem to produce all by themselves.

Take Yemen. This summer, The Intercept reported on a Saudi airstrike that hit a wedding in the remote mountain village of Al-Raqah, killing 23 civilians, including children, and injuring dozens. In a follow-up, the Washington Post cited U.N. figures showing that “more than three years into Yemen’s civil war, more than 16,000 civilians have been killed and injured, the vast majority by airstrikes.” The Post noted that the Saudi-led coalition “is the only actor in the conflict that uses warplanes, mostly U.S.- and British-made fighter jets. The airstrikes have struck hospitals, schools, markets, motels, migrant boats, gas stations, even funeral gatherings, raising questions about the coalition’s ability to abide by humanitarian laws that call for civilians to be safeguarded.”
“Raising questions” is an understatement. The ongoing Saudi-led blockade and bombardment of Yemen has led to politicians, pundits, and activists across the West accusing the Saudi military of “crimes against humanity” and calling MBS a “war criminal.”

(don’t forget their blockade of Qatar, after they turned down Jared’s loan demands)

THEN THERE IS the whole terrorism issue. This week, as the Saudis escalated their diplomatic spat with the Canadians, the Associated Press reported that the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has “cut secret deals with al-Qaida fighters, paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment, and wads of looted cash,” while “hundreds more were recruited to join the coalition itself.”
According to AP, “these compromises and alliances have allowed al-Qaida militants to survive to fight another day — and risk strengthening the most dangerous branch of the terror network that carried out the 9/11 attacks.”

So what’s the response from Donald Trump’s team to all this?

A State Department official told HuffPost on Monday that the administration would not be taking sides in the spat because “Canada and Saudi Arabia are both close allies of the United States.”
Sorry, what? “Both close allies”? Is Canada working with Al Qaeda in Yemen? Cutting deals with, and recruiting fighters from, the group behind the attack on the Twin Towers? And, while we’re on the subject of Al Qaeda, how many of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Canadians?

To quote Sen. Bernie Sanders, last September, “Do I consider [the Saudis] an ally? I consider them to be an undemocratic country that has supported terrorism around the world, it has funded terrorism, so I can’t. … No, they are not an ally of the United States.”

From an article by Mehdi Hasan in The Intercept

Enough of Giuliani’s BS. It’s time to subpoena Trump.

As special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III marches forward with his prosecution of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and as the case that Trump engaged in criminal conduct grows stronger, Trump and his lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani continue their tango about whether Trump will deign to answer questions from Mueller’s team.

Said Giuliani on the possibility of an interview: “If they can come to us and show us the basis and that it’s legitimate and that they have uncovered something, we can go from there and assess their objectivity.” Giuliani added to his list of prerequisite demands that he wants to know about the origins of the FBI probe before agreeing to some form of an interview. Then on Wednesday, Giuliani announced that the president’s team issued yet another counter-proposal to Mueller, declining to specify the terms.

So if Mueller can prove the legitimacy of his case, and if Giuliani and Trump conclude it’s objective, and if they receive sufficient information about the probe’s origins, then they might consider answering some questions in writing. (What a load of crap!)

Rudolph W. Giuliani with Donald J. Trump

Enough is enough. It’s time to subpoena Trump.

Mueller has been extraordinarily deferential and patient while Trump and his representatives engaged in their scarcely credible gamesmanship. Notwithstanding Giuliani’s representations that Trump is pawing the stall eager to submit to an interview under oath, it has become increasingly apparent that neither Trump nor anyone in his orbit has any interest in his answering Mueller’s questions. In a word, they are playing Mueller, and in the process, playing the country.

This post is an edited version of this opinion piece by Harry Litman in the Washington Post:

Trump’s insults lead to predictable results

Nothing up here! That’s why the Russians love me so much

Trump literally added insult to injury with his first remarks on the vast California wildfires that have killed at least seven people, burned hundreds of homes and forced thousands to flee, The moron blamed the blazes on the state’s environmental policies and inaccurately claimed that water that could be used to fight the fires was “foolishly being diverted into the Pacific Ocean.”

State officials and firefighting experts dismissed the Trumps Twitter comments. “We have plenty of water to fight these wildfires, but let’s be clear: It’s our changing climate that is leading to more severe and destructive fires,” said Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of Cal Fire, the state’s fire agency.

As usual, Trump is always trying to stir up civil unrest and incite violence so we shouldn’t be surprised that KIEM TV3 reports that vandals left their mark on the Republican Central Committee Office in Eureka, this weekend. The suspect or suspects, took to the building with spray paint and magic markers, writing things like “45 equal Lies” and “Fake President”.

Chairman of the Humboldt County Republican Central Committee, John Schutt, expressed that he feels that this is not an act of a Democrat but said, either way, this has to stop, as this is not the first time the Republican Headquarters has been tampered with.

“I don’t believe the Democrat Party has anything to do with this and having said that I do ask them to condemn this. I ask their party to come out and do a statement to condemn this officially. I’m sure some of this negativity is directed at Trump…This doesn’t hurt Trump, one bit. This hurts your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors that just are exercising their First Amendment rights to have a political party”

Oh, that first amendment that your leader doesn’t support?

While we condemn vandalism and violence, the Republican national leadership is enabling Trump’s daily incitement and lying that is enviably going to lead to this type of event.

With Trump’s continued reckless incitement we predict this is only the beginning.


The threat of a nuclear-armed terrorist state

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

While you’re being distracted by the Trump shit show, there’s a very real and emerging danger in the world that few are paying attention to.

“Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world — not this year, not next year, but certainly down the road,” says Michael Morell, former acting CIA director.

Pakistan has the world’s 5th largest population, 5th largest military, and 6th largest nuclear arsenal. The danger begins, Morell says, with a dysfunctional economy and a rapidly growing population of young people without education or job prospects. Add to that a military that continues to call the shots as though war could break out at any moment.

“The main reason the military has a grip on decision-making is because of a long-held and now mistaken belief in Pakistan that India is an existential threat to Pakistan and that Islamabad must do everything it can to protect itself from that threat,” he says.

“One of the areas in which this plays out is in Pakistan’s support to jihadists — in short, its support to terrorists fighting India. That support bleeds over to extremists who want to overthrow the Pakistani state itself, including al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.”

The bottom line: “This anti-state jihadist extremism is growing in Pakistan, creating the nightmare society down the road — an extremist government in Islamabad with nuclear weapons.”